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Nottingham Lib Dems support Workplace Parking Levy

May 14, 2008 10:04 PM

At Monday's Full Council Meeting, Nottingham's Lib Dems voted to support the city's Workplace Parking Levy, the congestion charge due to begin in 2010 to raise Nottingham's contribution to new tram lines in the city.

Councillor Foster said, "We acknowledge the scheme is not a perfect solution. We recommend it is kept under regular review. But at the moment, if Nottingham is to finance the tram, it is the only game in town."

ENDS

Cllr Foster's full speech to City Council is below:

Today we are deciding whether or not to proceed with Workplace Parking Levy (WPL) as Nottingham's way of financing its contribution to new tram lines in our city and into the county.

Nationally the Lib Dems are in favour of green taxation and have a presumption in favour of congestion charging. We have a national policy to tax lorries more to provide a fund for investment in our railways. However, as a political party opposed to centralism, we always let our local councillors and representatives have the final say in whether individual schemes best meet the needs of their areas. So it is that Lib Dems supported congestion charging schemes in London, but rejected flawed schemes in Edinburgh and Manchester.

In Nottingham, the Lib Dems will be voting in favour of WPL. We are now at point where the WPL scheme is the only game in town, and if we support the tram, which we most certainly do, then we have no alternative but to support WPL.

We are not entirely happy with how we got here, as we have made clear throughout the process. We do believe we should have consulted properly on both WPL and road-user charging. Road User Charging (RUC) has been rejected and it has not always been clear when, by whom, or why. We have even been told in scrutiny that RUC was not the option because "it would raise too much money" - a bizarre suggestion indeed. At the end of the day it is very easy for the suspicion to be there that we are finally going ahead with this scheme because Labour Nottingham was happy to be a guinea pig for a Labour government.

We are supporting WPL here in Nottingham - but we certainly acknowledge it is far from a perfect scheme.

It's unique. Nowhere else in the world has anything quite like it. Nowhere else in the country has opted to try the "other option" that the Labour government made available in its transport act enabling legislation.

As such we're entering into uncharted waters. No-one really knows how well it will work. We can guess where some of the problems will be but we don't entirely know. There are plenty of grey areas. How for example do you accurately account for the difference between supermarket staff parking and supermarket employee parking? If we end up in court defending national policies it will be the council that has to foot the bills for legal fees and advice. We should definitely be budgeting for that.

Secondly, as a congestion charging scheme, our officers' best estimates suggest it won't actually have much impact on congestion. A reduction of maybe 10% at peak times isn't going to make much difference to the problem parts of the town that snare up in the rush hour.

Thirdly, there is an issue of natural justice. Not all of those contributing to the scheme have a public transport alternative. The city has excellent public transport, but no public transport scheme in the world could cover ever eventuality. People making radial rather than arterial journeys, around the city rather than into the city centre, are not well served. Shift workers working late at night often have no bus option. Most of the money raised will be spent on the tram, and yet most of the businesses who pay it are not on tram routes.

So, as a scheme, it is not perfect. It is for this reason that we strongly recommend the scheme is kept under regular review. The scheme has a long lifetime, and the world will change before it finishes. Just because we agree WPL today does not mean that we should not consider changing it if something better comes along. Changes in technology may make road user charging easier and cheaper to implement. A future government may introduce a national congestion charge. A change in taxation systems may mean that Nottingham has greater freedom to raise money locally in other ways. There are so many imponderables that we would be foolish to nail our colours to the WPL mast and refuse to change if it becomes necessary.

That said, there are clearly also benefits to the system.

Making the charge and collecting it is relatively simple particularly in comparison to the infrastructure needed for road user charging.

We can get going with this scheme relatively quickly, and a high proportion of the revenue raised goes directly to the transport projects.

And this scheme can also easily be integrated at a later date into a comprehensive package of congestion beating measures.

And the biggest benefit of all: in all the consultation, the link has clearly been made between the tram and the levy. We also know the money will be spent on bus services and improvements at the railway station.

Unlike some other congestion charge schemes, the links between the charge, and what it will pay for are very clear. Other cities have been asked to consider schemes where motorists pay now, but the improvements are vague and in the future.

So it is important to keep public confidence that the WPL not come to be seen as yet another local government black hole. This council must always resist any attempt to spend the money on anything other than public transport improvement.

Furthermore, it's important that we are clear what money has come in and what has been spent, so we can clearly show local people how their money is being spent. Since the scheme will need us to write to businesses every year, we have an opportunity there to explain how the Council is using the money.

The council will also have to work harder to explain the other uses for the money. There is a link in many minds between the tram and WPL. But far fewer people will recall the money is also being used to fund station improvements, the Link bus network and other bus services. A few signs explaining "This bus has been paid for by Nottingham's commuters" would not go amiss.

So in conclusion: we are supporting the WPL charge today because we support the tram and the transport infrastructure programme. We have reservations about how we arrived at this point, and we believe the scheme should be kept under regular review.